White House warns Russia on invading Ukraine after Biden seems to suggest small incursions will be tolerated

In a statement released after the press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that any incursion would be met with a ‘severe’ response from the U.S. and its allies.

The White House clarified U.S. President Joe Biden’s opposition to Russian aggression on Ukraine after Mr. Biden appeared to suggest during a press conference that a small incursion by Russia would be tolerated. In a statement released after the press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that any incursion would be met with a “ severe” response from the U.S. and its allies.

“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” Ms. Psaki said. She added that paramilitary and cyber attacks by Russia would also be met with reciprocal action.

Tensions between the West and Moscow have soared as Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders.

Earlier on January 19, Mr. Biden had told reporters during a press conference to mark his first anniversary in office that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a military alliance of the West, was united in its opposition to the idea of Russia invading Ukraine, but qualified it to say the response would depend on the size of the incursion.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we [ NATO allies] end up having a fight about what to do and not do etc., “ Mr. Biden said. “ But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing … it is going to be a disaster for Russia, if they further invade Ukraine and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy,” he said.

Mr .Biden said he had conveyed to Mr. Putin (the two held a telephone call in December) that he would fortify NATO’s eastern flank if Russia went into Ukraine. He also said that Russia would prevail in the long run over Ukraine, if it invaded the country, but there would be a heavy cost. He said economic sanctions would involve a ban on transactions in dollar denominated assets.

In a draft security agreement Moscow sent to Western countries in December, it had proposed that NATO not expand to include Ukraine. Another Russian demand was that NATO not deploy weapons or forces in countries that became NATO members after May 1997.

Asked later during the press interaction if he had effectively given Mr. Putin “ permission” to make a small incursion into Ukraine, Mr. Biden said, “ …It’s very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page. And that’s what I’m spending a lot of time doing.”

There are differences within NATO on what countries are willing to do depending on what scenario plays out, Mr. Biden said. In terms of calibrating a response, he cited the example of cyber ops being countered with similar tactics.

Mr. Biden said that the economic sanctions on Russia would have “devastating” consequences on it but would also have a negative impact on the U.S. and European countries and so the allies would have to be on the same page about a response to any Russian incursion.

Asked if he has made a determination that Mr. Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, Mr. Biden said that Mr. Putin has not yet , he believed, made the decision and that he is calculating the short and long term consequences for Russia.

On January 19, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, reiterated the Russian position that it is not planning to invade Ukraine, according to a report in the Associated Press. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Kyiv on January 19, will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on January 21 in Geneva, in an attempt to reduce tensions, which remain high, after rounds of inconclusive talks between the two countries and European allies of the U.S.

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